5 Skills All Managers Need for
Implementing Successful Performance Management

Successful performance management is multifaceted and tailored to each individual employee and their job role.

Performance management involves the planning of personal objectives, the implementation of these objectives, tracking progress to ensure there are clear steps being taken towards achieving the objectives, and using regular performance reviews to evaluate progress.

Performance Management isn’t just reviews

A common misconception about performance management is that it’s all centred on once-a-year review meetings. In fact, successful performance management is about tracking progress and working towards goals constantly.

Performance management should be happening all the time. Our page on Managing Appraisals and Performance Reviews covers this in more detail.

While some skills that are needed for implementing successful performance management may come naturally to managers, in many cases they need to be learned.

Companies have a variety of options, including training workshops, e-learning, videos, tip sheets, coaching, mentoring and action learning. Highly interactive and engaging learning processes produce the best learning outcomes.

Organisations that are implementing performance management strategies should invest in the skills as well as a system. Explaining the processes, tools and software which will be used for performance management should only be part of the training. The focus of training should be on the skills needed to make performance management a success, and that starts with motivating and training managers.

Understanding and Vision

At the core of every successful performance management strategy is a team who understand the value of performance management and buy into the process.

Unfortunately this can be quite a challenge for HR, so it’s essential to educate managers and employees on the benefits of performance management and provide them with evidence of how it will bring positive results.

Involve managers in the discussion of the organisation’s goals and what the success measures for performance management should be. Outline the benefits, whether that’s boosting productivity or improving work-life balance for employees.

Find out more on our pages: Creating a Compelling Vision and Communicating the Vision.

Thorough and Actionable Planning

Managers need to be able to plan effectively using SMART objectives.

These should align with the organisation’s overall vision and goals, but should be broken down into smaller objectives for individual employees to work on that feed into the bigger picture.

Objectives should be:

  • Specific: to each employee, their job role and their skillset.
  • Measurable: with milestones to keep track of progress.
  • Achievable: with the right amount of effort and work ethic.
  • Relevant: focusing on delivering the company’s overall strategy.
  • Timely: goals should have time frames for completion.

Vague plans or ideas which don’t have actionable steps and targets are rarely achieved. Planning in a thorough and actionable way will give employees solid direction so that they can work on their objectives and reach the final goal.

There is more on making your goals and objectives SMART on our pages - SMART GOALS and Setting Personal Goals.

Feedback Effectively and Coach Employees

A major pitfall of many performance management schemes is that feedback isn’t given in the moment.

Managers tend to make a note and bundle all of their feedback into performance reviews. However by then, some of the feedback can lose its relevance and demotivate employees.

Instead, managers should aim to give feedback right after a situation has occurred, whether it’s a positive or a negative one. It is better to coach employees, consistently working on making improvements to ways of working. Employees should also be encouraged to ask for feedback when they feel they need it.

Giving feedback in the right way isn’t easy. Managers will require specific training on approaches to giving feedback and how to continually coach employees in order to see improvements in performance management.

According to Performance Management: Research Report 2015, 73% of employees who receive coaching are more likely to view their organisation’s performance management process as fair and 70% say it gives them a better insight into how to improve their performance at work.

Ability to Look Forward, Not Backwards

When it comes to performance appraisals, the focus should be on what can be achieved moving forward.

Managers should not dwell on past accomplishments or past problems. Criticism won’t help employees to gain better results in the future, so don’t use meetings for that purpose.

Instead discuss obstacles and alternative ways to tackle them in the future. This could be reflecting on processes that haven’t worked for the team, or trialling different software or ways of working to see if there is a better way.

Managers should be seeking to find solutions to questions like: What development actions are needed to achieve objectives? What strategies need to be put in place in order for tasks to run smoothly?

Communicative and Open to Discussion

Performance management strategies have increasingly been criticised for being too complicated.

Too many forms to fill in and criteria to evaluate often led to a box ticking mentality where meetings were merely exercises to get the paperwork done.

Skilled managers will realise that there are no merits to this system and will place emphasis on discussions over simply ticking the boxes. Managers who are dedicated to successful performance management can hold regular weekly one-to-one meetings with employees rather than waiting for a quarterly or annual review to roll around.

These meetings should be informal, focusing on discussing progress, priorities, issues and any support that is needed. Keeping channels of communication open in this way and giving employees an opportunity to speak privately with their manager will make them feel more comfortable about sharing problems or ideas.

Performance management software can be used to make keeping track of meetings and make recording progress more efficient. The eReward performance management survey conducted in 2014 found that online performance software needs to be ‘ridiculously easy to understand.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

About the Author

Stuart Hearn has 20 years’ experience in the HR sector and is a specialist in performance management for businesses. Stuart is CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system. Previously he co-founded plusHR and worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing.